Indonesia faces pandemic if it does not kill all poultry affected by bird flu, UN says

Indonesia should immediately slaughter poultry in areas affected by bird flu and delegate more funds to fight the virus to stop it developing into a human pandemic, the United Nations said Friday.

Four people have been killed by bird flu in Indonesia since July, and two other recent fatalities are being investigated. A further 22 people showing symptoms of the disease are also under observation, according to the health ministry.

"In view of the worrying situation, it is necessary for the government to improve its virus control policies and strategies,"Joseph Domenech, the head vet for the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Agency, said in a statement.

The government, accused of responding slowly to the outbreak, has in recent days stepped up efforts to curtail its spread. It fired the country's chief of animal health control, said it planned to cull chickens in infected areas, and threatened to forcefully hospitalize anyone showing symptoms of the disease.

The FAO said that Indonesian officials "should immediately carry out control measures such as culling and targeted vaccination in high-risk areas" and "that more financial resources should be made available for the control of bird flu in animals to prevent a human pandemic."

The H5N1 strain of bird flu has swept through poultry populations in large swaths of Asia since 2003, killing at least 63 people and resulting in the deaths of tens of millions of birds.

Most human cases have been linked to contact with sick birds. But the World Health Organization has warned that the virus could mutate into a form that spreads easily among humans, possibly triggering a global pandemic that could kill millions, according to the AP.

The latest outbreak in Indonesia has alarmed the region.

On Friday, Australia announced it would fund 10,000 courses of the anti-viral drug Tamiflu for Indonesia to help Jakarta fight the illness.

"This assistance for emergency supplies of the drug follows a request from the Indonesian government and is part of our ongoing work to combat Avian Influenza in the Asia Pacific," said Bruce Billson, the government's parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs. "The World Health Organization will source the anti-viral medication from drug suppliers to treat flu victims and those who have been in close contact with them, including medical personnel."

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